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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
UNITED STATES: To Skip the 'Talk' About Sex, Have an Ongoing Dialogue
Elizabeth Bernstein
November 21, 2011
Wall Street Journal (11.15.11) - Monday, November 21, 2011

Child-development experts are rethinking "the talk," the traditional parent-child conversation about sex.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends having age- appropriate ongoing conversations with children about human sexuality. By age 10, a child should know the differences between males and females, the correct names of body parts and the developmental changes that occur. If parents wait until the early teens, or even middle school, to talk about sex, they have waited too long, AAP says.

"The notion that we are supposed to have one talk about the birds and the bees and be done with it is a myth," said Dr. L. Kris Gowen, a developmental psychologist and senior research associate at Portland State University in Oregon. "Research shows that the more the kids learn, the less likely they are to have sex." Experts suggest the following dialogue guidelines, tailored to an individual child's development: *For preschoolers, talk about body parts using clinical words rather than euphemisms, which can connote feelings of shame or embarrassment; talk about pregnancy and birth; talk about what is safe touch, and what is not. In response to questions about same-sex couples, explain that families come in different shapes and sizes, Gowen said.

*For ages five to eight, begin explaining how a child's body changes to an adult's. Amy Lang, founder of Birds+Bees+Kids, which helps parents and others learn how to talk to children about sex, suggests starting a discussion about pornography by age eight. "Give them a heads up that sometimes people look at videos and pictures of naked people on the Internet and that this is not OK for kids," she said.

*For ages nine to 12, parents should explain their own values concerning certain topics; discuss the dynamics of healthy and unhealthy sexual relationships.

*For ages 13 to 15, talk about safe sex and how to prevent STDs and pregnancy; talk about values and relationships.

*For ages 16 to 20, shift conversations from "how" to "why," stressing values; talk about casual sex, date rape and peer pressure.